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How do you actually learn biology?

  1. Apr 9, 2004 #1
    So how do you actually learn about biology?

    Like.. I am going to graduate with a degree in biology, and I will have taken the following classes:

    Biol 1 and 2 (the two intros)
    Genetics
    Evolution
    Animal Behavior
    Microbiology
    Histology
    A basic A&P class
    Ecology
    Parasitology
    And I have 6 hrs of undergrad research (fish gonad regeneration)

    My thing is, I'll know a little bit about a broad range of biology topics. But, I really feel like I don't know ****. Compared to non-science people, I know a ton, but compared to a biology person, I feel so .. inept.

    I'm considering going to grad school, but I'm not sure which field to go in. I'm thinking of a type of bioengineering, or molecular biology, or possibly evolutionary biology. Is grad school / PhD school where you really learn all the nitty gritty things?
     
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  3. Apr 9, 2004 #2

    Phobos

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    Fear not, for this is typical. A BS degree gives you the proper foundation (broad) and then you build specialized (narrower) experience after that through further education and/or direct career experience.

    If I may be permitted to generalize...
    A BS degree teaches you how to think about the subject and where to find the information you need.
    A MS degree teaches you how to think deeply about the subject and shows you how much you don't know. The nitty gritty begins here.
    A PhD degree goes further in-depth and allows you to make some new nitty gritty contribution to the body of scientific knowledge.

    Congratulations on a job well done. Keep at it.

    Talk to your professors. They can help explain the graduate level programs.
     
  4. Apr 9, 2004 #3
    You've got yourself a nice broad base.. i'm still undergrad myself, done/doing -

    Biol 1 & 2 (intros)
    Biochem 1 & 2
    Molecular Bio 1&2
    Cell Bio 1
    Cell Anatomy 1
    Accounting 1 & 2
    Finance 1
    Economics 1
    Statistics 1
    Business Law 1
    Computer Science 1

    Ahem and you think you got it broad.. anway there's one thing I learned from my sis (who's doing a PhD) is never be affraid to read up in more depth than you have, may seem like a waste of time to learn whats not examined, but it'll give you a head start later! The pile of a 100 journals she's reading is what really scares me..
     
  5. Apr 9, 2004 #4
    Ahh, this is great information to hear :-)

    One thing I'm "hindered" in is that my university is smaller, and so it only has the "first" in the series of a lot of topics that would be neat to get a lot of education in.

    So how does grad school itself work? I mean, as far as financially. We had one prof from a big grad school in Dallas come talk to us. It seems as though they actually pay you to come to the grad school, so you learn for free, and get a (very) low salary to be a student.

    But I'm assuming that this is only the better grad schools do that?
     
  6. Apr 9, 2004 #5

    iansmith

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    In grad school you get pay to do lab work if you are doing a thesis based degree. You have to pay your tuition but usually your salary covers it. Some department have a minimun stipend. You also migth get pay to do TA work during the school year. Also some research agency give bursaries to grad student and their also numerous schoolarship given by the university.

    Grad school is pretty much just doing reasearch in lab and learning about a specific subject. Choose your field and your potential wisely because you might find it dificult to go on and finish your degree. You also to consider what you like to do after your graduate degree.
     
  7. Apr 10, 2004 #6
    Once you start doing MA or PhD, is there much more to do besides teaching or research?

    My histo prof is an animal physiologist, and she said she could go work for the zoo in Disney World/Land and make a lot more money than she does as an university professor, but she like teaching. What kind of opportunities await biology PhDs?
     
  8. Apr 10, 2004 #7

    iansmith

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    The job possibility with a PhD sill depend on your area of specialization. People that study cellular biology and microbiology will open doors more easily in the pharmaceutical and biotech compagny. Wildlife biologist and zoologist migth have a harder time to find jobs in private sector rather than in academia, institutes and governmental agency.
    Also with PhD you migth be over qualified to do. With a B.Sc. or M.Sc., you could be a technician.

    You can look for job description at this site. It is usefull for looking at the possibilities of employement.
    http://www.sciencejobs.com/splash.action
     
  9. Apr 10, 2004 #8

    Moonbear

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    Of your current experience, the one that will help guide you most if you should consider grad school is how much you liked your undergrad research experience. It's okay if the project you did wasn't your favorite topic in biology, but did you enjoy working in the lab? Do you understand the project you were doing and why you were doing the part you did? If so, then you will likely find something for you in grad school. If at this stage you aren't even sure what general field of biology you'd like to learn in more detail, start off with a master's degree (if you LOVE it, most programs are flexible in allowing you to change to a PhD program to continue that work...if you just like it, then you'll understand more by then about choosing a good PhD program in the area you do become interested in). Another option is to work as a tech in a lab for a few years to gain more lab experience and get a better idea of what you like and don't like before choosing a program for a master's or PhD.

    The amount of funding you'll get for grad school depends on several factors. Most programs will cover your full tuition and pay a stipend. The stipend is meant to cover basic living expenses, but can vary considerably from institution to institution and depend on where the money comes from sometimes. There are fellowships, training grants, stipends paid off the researcher's own grant, teaching assistantships, and institutionally provided money. You usually will get a lot less in a master's program than if you enter a PhD program because that pretty much reflects how much they expect to get back out of you. You are expected to perform work for your stipend. For most, it means you are doing your lab research. For a teaching assistantship, it means you will have to teach a certain number of hours a week in return for the funding.

    The most important thing to know about going to grad school before you decide to do it is you will work VERY hard and VERY long hours to get your degree. If you like the 8-5 lifestyle and going out every evening and weekend with your friends, grad school is not for you. Talk to some of the grad students in the lab you did your research project in and that's also a good professor to talk to...he or she will know you better than your other professors, so can help give you advice on where they see your strengths and weaknesses and how that might guide your choices.

    Looking at your course list and the areas you seem to be interested in considering, you'll probably be best starting off in a master's level program unless you have enough time to add a few classes specific to your interest area. For example, bioengineering really does require some background that will help you with the engineering side of things...advanced chemistry, physics for physics or engineering majors (not the physics for non-majors...that won't give you a sufficient foundation), some sort of materials science class, and a strong math background. For microbiology, get a biochemistry class and a molecular genetics or cell biology class added in. You seem to have a decent background already for evolutionary biology; your classes really seem to focus on that area.
     
  10. Apr 11, 2004 #9
    Once again, let me thank you guys for the advice!

    I am definitely going to talk to my profs about grad school and learn about their experiences there. I am the type of person that when I find something interesting, I can throw myself into it full force and want to learn a lot about it.

    I have taken a few courses that you guys talked about that I didn't list, as it wasn't directly biology related. I've taken 2 physics classes, but they were the non-calculus based classes. I think the bio-engineering route may not be for me, although I know for a fact I could learn calculus and others if needed.

    Moonbear, that is neat you picked out evolutionary biology. I find evolution to be *fascinating*. In fact, Richard Dawkins is perhaps my most favorite author. I have near a half-dozen of his books. I just question how much use that area is these days? I've noticed most grad schools combine evolution and ecology.
     
  11. Apr 11, 2004 #10
    Also, is there any types of biology grad school areas that deal with the human? I mean, stuff focusing on physiology, or hematology type stuff? I find the lymph/immune/circulatory systems to be amazing.
     
  12. Apr 11, 2004 #11

    Monique

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    You can do a program in cardiology or immunology for instance, but are you asking for direct physiology? Otherwise molecular biology or cell biology would be some programs where you can work on that kind of diseases.
     
  13. Apr 11, 2004 #12

    Moonbear

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    There is a program for any type of biology you could imagine studying. You just have to find it. Every med school will have a physiology dept because that's one of the basics they have to teach med students, which means plenty of people doing research in physiology. Of course, you then need to find ones with strengths in cardiology or hematology. However, how you want to approach a subject may land you in an entirely different place. For example, if you want to study molecular mechanisms of blood cell functions, you might find someone in a molecular biology department to work with. Another way to familiarize yourself with some of the variety of options you have is to search the websites of a number of universities. Look under the department listings, locate the various biologically related departments, then start looking through the lists of faculty and their research areas. Most also have their graduate program information online as well so you can see what sort of courses their students are required to take, some of the areas of research the students are involved in, the admissions requirements, etc. Many will also list some of the placements of their recent grads so you can get an idea of where these people go onto and what sort of options you have with those sorts of degrees.

    One thing you'll get out of any graduate program is the ability to think critically and independently. Problem solving is the best skill a PhD acquires during their training. That means that even if you find out that there is a real lack of jobs in your particular field when you graduate (it's sometimes really hard to predict...one area is "hot" for a while, then gets oversaturated with too many recent grads and something else ends up having all the new openings...just like any other career path), you'll come out with some general skills you can really apply to any career.

    There are the traditional research paths, whether in academia, industry, government, museums, zoos, etc., but there are also a number of non-traditional paths. Some of my contemporaries from grad school have gone on to pursue careers such as scientific writing for the popular press, or working on the editorial staff of scientific journals. Others work as scientific advisors in law firms specializing in patent applications...a few of them have continued their education in law school and can prosecute the applications. There are places for scientific advisors in government. And one person I knew went to grad school with the full intention of being a stay-at-home mom when she was done; she just did it for her own intellectual growth and not for any particular career goal.
     
  14. Apr 13, 2004 #13

    Phobos

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    my experience...
    I had applied to I think it was 5 grad schools...and I ended up going to the 1 that had money to give me. I would have had to pay tuition to go to the others. The deal I got was free tuition & a small stipend (low salary*) to be an indentured servant....I mean a teaching assistant and then a research assistant. My work as a research assistant doubled as my thesis for graduation. Basically, the professor brought in a project to the college (some agency gave him a lump of money to go & research something) and he needed to hire people (students) to help do the lab work.

    * enough to live on if you live simply & have a lot of roommates. Good times. I highly recommend it.
     
  15. Apr 13, 2004 #14
    Wow, I am loving these posts about grad school. I think this may be a route for me. I am curious to something that Moonbear said. He said that most med-schools will have a physiology dept. Does this mean that most med-schools should have some type of graduate program available there also? Meaning, I could study physiology as a grad-student, and do it on a med-school campus?

    I graduate in December. I guess I'm going to start looking into taking the GRE!
     
  16. Apr 13, 2004 #15

    iansmith

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    If you expect to graduate this december, you should start now to look at universities that interest you, their programes and their research. Don't limit yourself to the department of physiology, sometimes other departments offer related research and it is easier to get in such as Biology and Experimental medicine. You migth find some interresting research topics if you search thoroughly. Also, you should have a wide selection of university because you migth not find any research that interest you.
     
  17. Apr 13, 2004 #16

    Moonbear

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    Yes, medical schools have a lot of research going on, particularly in biomedical type fields (for obvious reasons). Those programs are also usually much better funded than their counterparts on undergraduate campuses, so stipends are often much better, which can make the lack of a life more enjoyable by having better food in the fridge and a nicer place to live. It also usually means more lab resources available (though not always...some smaller programs can do remarkably well if they have some top notch researchers pulling in mega grant money). No matter what a department's name is or what they say they emphasize, look at the research the faculty there actually do. Those will be the labs you will have to choose from and those will be the areas of expertise they will emphasize in formal classes. Make sure as you choose programs to apply to that you find ones that have several people working in areas you find interesting to increase your chances of finding one you really can sink your teeth into. Also, although you won't be getting to the interview stage until next winter or spring, make sure you talk to current students in the labs you're interested in as well as students who have rotated through but not chosen those labs...find out why they chose or didn't choose the lab. And also ask the faculty if they actually have positions in their labs. You might find the perfect program with a great person doing research you would kill to do, but if he or she doesn't have any openings in their lab, it won't help at all.
     
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